It might be hard to believe the “Glass Bank” was once a visually stunning piece of architecture. Opened in 1962, the structure was entirely glass-walled before a 1980s renovation gave it a brutalist makeover. The building was penned by a famed local architect and served the city for more than four decades before hurricane damage forced the last commercial tenants to relocate in 2004.

Over the next ten years disagreements between owners prevented needed repairs, and the financial crisis prevented any bailout. Only one man stood in the way of the building’s demolishment, but he couldn’t fight forever. The Glass Bank’s fate was eventually decided by the courts in 2014, and by early 2015 more than fifty years of Cocoa Beach history was demolished.

cover photo courtesy Biz360Tours

Glass-Bank-map

Map it!

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Beginning

courtesy Rob Stephenson
courtesy Rob Stephenson

Cocoa Beach sits on a beautiful strip of sand along Florida’s east coast, splitting the difference between Jacksonville and Miami. It is mere miles from Patrick Air Force Base, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, and NASA’s Cape Canaveral – all of which heavily influenced the region and helped it earn the nickname “the Space Coast.”

In the 1960s the American Space Program was quickly transforming Cocoa Beach, and overall modernization bled into the city’s architecture.

One of the crown jewels of this metamorphosis was the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Cocoa Beach.

Thirty-eight year-old architect Reginald Caywood Knight, a graduate of Harvard and veteran of M.I.T.’s department of architecture, was tasked with designing the building in 1960. Construction began that year and would continue throughout 1961.

The grand opening was in April of 1962. First Federal Savings and Loan occupied the majority of the retail space at 505 North Orlando Avenue in Cocoa Beach, Florida, but over time residents would come to know the five-story structure with parabolic curves as the “Glass Bank.”

On the top floor was the Sky Room, a restaurant with 360-degree views of Cocoa Beach.

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The Glass Bank building, 1961 (photo courtesy Judy Hunt Davis Family)

Guests could step outside to the wraparound “Skywalk” and watch space shuttle launches from nearby Cape Canaveral.

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The Golden Years

Glass-Bank-1962It was a celebrated opening, however not all was flawless in the beginning. As beautiful as the Glass Bank was, its original design exposed one serious design flaw: The lack of easy and freight access to the upper levels.

With no direct elevator, customers and freight delivers to the Sky Room endured an unnecessarily onerous journey to the top floor. Perhaps this was a factor in the closing of the Sky Room in 1963, just a year after the Glass Bank opened.

Glass-Bank-express-elevatorIf the lack of direct access was a problem, it was remedied with the addition of the express elevator to the exterior of the building in 1963 (pictured at left).

This time restaurant and night club Ramon’s Rainbow Room would take over the top space, bringing food, music, and an atmosphere which proved popular in the era.

To its credit Ramon’s Rainbow Room became a legend in its own right, hosting astronauts, celebrities, and politicians on special occasions and often drawing crowds. It was known for its cocktails, jazz music, and good food.

First-Federal-Savings-Loan-matchbookRamon’s Caesar Salad dressing was reportedly delicious and “unlike any other Caesar salad you’ve ever tasted; creamier, with a hint of sweetness and perhaps a bit of curry.” The dressing was famous, but the recipe was kept a closely guarded secret.

The Rainbow Room was founded by Don and Allene Holt, owners of the already-established Ramon’s Restaurant in town.

The original Ramon’s was a dark, ground-floor eatery that shared menus and astronaut-themed décor with the later Rainbow Room. But it lacked the more electric atmosphere provided by a glass penthouse.

With live music and 360-degree views of Cocoa Beach, the Rainbow Room was understandably a popular place.

(click to enlarge)

*

Decline

For seven years Ramon’s Rainbow Room entertained and fed its guests atop the Glass Bank, but as times change so do tastes.

By the late 1960s the penthouse lounge had already begun to fall out of favor. It closed in 1970, but was re-opened as “Marby’s Rainbow Room” later that year.

Glass-Bank-1960s-before-express-elevator
Glass Bank before express elevator addition, circa early 1960s

Marby’s Rainbow Room would not see its second anniversary; by 1972 the top-level restaurant would close for the final time. Meanwhile, First Federal Savings and Loan was still the primary tenant for the remainder of the building. Unbeknownst to those working inside, it too would soon become a former tenant.

Glass-Bank-1960s-from-corvairDuring the 1980s the Savings and Loan crisis unwound nearly a third of the thrifts in the country. Included in the speculative lending carnage was the death of First Federal in Cocoa Beach.

Twenty years into its existence, the Glass Bank lost its original tenant.

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Man with a Plan

Frank-Wolfe-1950s-sm
Frank Wolfe

Cocoa Beach resident and attorney Frank Wolfe wasn’t yet fifty years old when he purchased the rights to the penthouse space of the Glass Bank in the early 1980s.

Wolfe was an aggressive attorney who enjoyed an illustrious career spanning such positions as city attorney to chairman of the famous Ron John’s surf shop.

Wolfe transformed the look of the Glass Bank building with radical modifications that shifted the building from glass to stucco. Following the brutalist ethos, the building now appeared fortress-like, with concrete in place of glass. The penthouse restaurant was expanded to the perimeter of the building, removing the skywalk. Smaller rectangular portholes took the place of the former floor-to-ceiling windows.

In an irony of ironies, Wolfe had erected a two-story windowless penthouse on top of the Glass Bank.

The corners of the building were reinforced with concrete and covered in stucco. Gone was the floor-to-ceiling glass and wraparound viewing balcony for patrons on the top level. Ramon’s former express elevator now became a private elevator entrance for the new residence.

Glass-Bank-2006

The Glass Bank had become a brutalist stucco monolith, although it continued to be known by the more flattering name. Local blogger Dan Reiter summarized one perspective on Frank Wolfe’s contributions to the Glass Bank:

“…her ill-fitting crown, the 1981 concrete penthouse addition, so willfully antagonistic of the intentions of Architect Knight––a windowless box, devoid of glass, off-kilter, a brutalist plug, blockading the cosmic flight of her skirt walls.”

Wolfe’s modifications were indeed a brutalist interpretation of Reginald Knight’s all-glass mid-century wonder. Whether or not Knight would have approved, we’ll never know. He passed away in 1973, (some say fortunately) before the building’s transfiguration.

Glass Bank Transformation

(click to enlarge)

For all the teeth-gnashing over the exterior modifications, few were privy to the wonders that lie within the structure’s penthouse. To most it resembled rooftop HVAC equipment surrounded by an unattractive and unnecessarily large beauty wall.

In fact, the five-story building had been expanded into a seven-story building.

The public-at-large did not realize what Frank Wolfe was doing, but the attorney was happy to keep secrets. It would be nearly three decades before Frank would treat the public to an inside-look.

Glass-Bank-new-penthouse
Highlighted portion shows Wolfe penthouse addition

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The Wolfe Penthouse

Glass-Bank-penthouse-dining-area-Frank-WolfeFrank Wolfe concocted a plan for his own private retreat, one in which he could escape the occasional unpleasant realities of the outside world. This concept is not dissimilar to that of a “man cave.” It’s not just a place to hang out, it’s a metaphorical security blanket, or a retreat for times of adversity or stress.

It just so happens Frank built his man cave atop a mid-century glass-walled landmark. But let us forget about the raison d’être for a moment; pictures will struggle, and words likely fail to do Frank’s penthouse justice.

The Glass Bank’s penthouse was what Tom Hank’s character in the 1980’s classic movie Big would have built if he were an executive for a toy company in Cocoa Beach instead of New York City.

Entry to the apartment is made via the exterior express elevator. Upon disembarking, visitors step into a nature-themed foyer sporting a small foot bridge with access to the arched entry to the penthouse (pictured below).

Glass-Bank-penthouse-foyer-Frank-Wolfe
Frank Wolfe leads through the Glass Bank penthouse foyer

The sound of running water explains the foot bridge. It spans a small artificial stream fed by – what else – an extravagant indoor fountain on the right wall, doubling as a waterfall for the room’s 100 square-foot ecosystem.

Once across the foot bridge and inside the front door, the small foyer gives way to an enormous windowless two-story, several-thousand square-feet space. Rich wood paneling lines the walls and ceiling. Clean recessed can lights illuminate the main room from above.

Against the far wall, a faux-stone mountain is the room’s centerpiece. At its base, a giant fireplace added ambiance to gatherings and took the edge off coastal winter nights.

Glass-Bank-2009-Frank-Wolfe-penthouse
Frank Wolfe poses in his living room for a rare public photo

The edges of the indoor mountain reach to the far sides of either wall, each slope with its own forest illuminated by Christmas lights.

The absence of windows did not deter Wolfe from creating his own sky. More than a dozen faux clouds dot the walls on either side of the mountain.

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Flow

Glass-Bank-penthouse-lounge-Frank-Wolfe
Penthouse bar & Christmas village

Frank Wolfe preferred soft to hard edges. He appreciated lines which suggested a continuous flow or motion. Preferences for such amorphous shapes and waves were influenced by the ocean. Residing in Cocoa Beach offered one an intimate familiarity.

Almost everything had rounded lines. Cabinets, chairs, closets, entryway arches, sinks, tables, and tubs. A quick scan of the penthouse reveals a design language not difficult to decipher.

In the center of the room, a sunken group of exquisite leather couches encircle a round glass table. To the right of the couches, an arc lamp illuminates a six-place oval table in the dining area. On the other side of the room a curved bar with a padded and tufted treatment harkens back to the 70s (pictured above right). Adjacent to the bar, a Christmas village display stood erected year-round in a permanent in-wall diorama.

Glass-Bank-penthouse-office-Frank-Wolfe
Glass Bank penthouse office

Frank’s circular office (pictured above) occupied another corner. Deep rich mahogany tones offset those of the brighter cedar in this rounded enclave. The walls were back-lit to effect a sense of, coincidentally enough, being in a rounded perimeter office. A large circle in the ceiling above housed fluorescent lights designed to mimic a skylight.

Glass-Bank-penthouse-kitchen-Frank-Wolfe
Kitchen of the Glass Bank penthouse

The kitchen (pictured at left) stands in stark contrast to the rest of the apartment. Step inside to what looks like a cross between the kitchen of a luxury motor coach and the galley of a presidential submarine, but designed by the architects of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Liberal use of cool fluorescent lighting gave the appearance of natural daylight. Laundry facilities were smartly built-in to the cabinetry on the right, efficiently hidden behind a curved closet next to the refrigerator.

Upstairs, a seating area claims the loft and overlooks the main living area below. The balcony is curved and weaves from one side of the wall to the edge of the stairs, which are also curved and lacked consecutive steps of equal width. A large swath of leather affixed to the ceiling looks like a cushioned bumper for a nearby alcove’s wavy molding. Crown molding varied from room to room but was fashioned from leather or a carpet-like fabric.

The master bed occupies another round space, sitting in its own circular enclave and topped with a unique padded leather ceiling (pictured below).

Glass-Bank-penthouse-master-bedroom-Frank-Wolfe
Glass Bank penthouse master bedroom

glass-bank-penthouse-urinalThe master bath was every bit as unique. A two-tone carpet cuts a soft path past the bathing area to the closet. On one side the shower and toilet sit in a carpeted alcove, the former separated from the latter by a set of elaborate window curtains.

And as any gentleman’s private bath should have, Frank was sure to include his own urinal.

A Jacuzzi tub is the centerpiece of a rounded sunken enclave in the middle of the room, ringed by strip lighting – in a warmer color and offsetting the cooler daylight-hued lights from above (pictured below).

Glass-Bank-penthouse-master-bath-closet-Frank-Wolfe
Master bathroom in penthouse of the Glass Bank

The apartment’s mountain theme carries upstairs onto a giant oil on canvas which dominates the bathing alcove. It depicts a peaceful scene on the banks of a river underneath a mountain.

Aiding in the effect is a faux-stone wall, made of a synthetic foam and situated adjacent to the canvas, which rises from the backside of the tub and reaches to the ceiling.

Beyond the tub were the master closet space, with a large motorized rack in which Frank could push a button and spin his garments and shoes whilst picking out the day’s ensemble. Given the narrow space of the closet, it must have been a shrewd facilitator.

(click thumbnails to enlarge)

Your guess is as good as ours
Your guess is as good as mine

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2004 Hurricane Season

Glass-Bank-last-gym-machine-2014
courtesy bweissman

In later years the Glass Bank’s concrete and stucco modifications were intended to be more functional – if less attractive – and better-equipped to deal with the high summer temperatures and occasionally rough weather.

Except hurricanes.

But few glass structures of this vintage could stand in the way of a motivated category four storm. The 2004 hurricane season was especially unkind to Florida, showing its east coast more major hurricanes than any year since 1964.

First it was category four Hurricane Charley in early August. Weeks later category four Hurricane Frances struck Florida and wrought a havoc which included the outbreak of more than 100 tornadoes across the Southeast. In September category three Hurricane Jeanne came through Florida to punish what Charley and Frances had uncovered, but left behind.

photos courtesy bweissman

Few buildings escaped the wrath of all three storms. The Glass Bank was no exception, although the penthouse, with its lack of windows, was spared.

Windows now broken and yielding to the elements, the building’s outer layer had been breached. Exposure introduced mold, mildew, and an accelerating rate of decay. If the environmental breach wasn’t enough of an uphill battle, the Glass Bank was afflicted with another issue common with buildings of this vintage: asbestos.

Glass-Bank-super-scooper-2014
Glass Bank’s Super Scooper machine (courtesy bweissman)

The final tenants of the Glass Bank building were Huntington Bank on the lower level, Nautilus Fitness on the mid-levels, and Frank Wolfe’s personal condominium in the penthouse.

All except for Wolfe left after the 2004 hurricane season.

photos courtesy michaelbrnd

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Fines & Legal Stalemate

Glass Bank part-owner Joseph Yossifon
Glass Bank part-owner Joseph Yossifon

Toward the end of its life the building was co-owned by the Glass Bank Condominium Association (GBCA) and Frank Wolfe; the former controlled all but the penthouse and wanted to restore the iconic building to its 1960s former glory. Frank was not interested in losing his penthouse.

GBCA representative Joseph Yossifon (pictured at right) did not see eye-to-eye with Frank Wolfe on fixes, remodel plans, or the overall direction of the building. Hurricane damage was extreme, but a lack of cooperation saw remodel plans evaporate.

Despite the hurricane damage, Wolfe’s penthouse still had electricity and running water. This only emboldened Frank to further entrench himself in his position. While no action was taken by the building’s owners to fix the ailing structure, the city began to impose fines – at one point charging the Glass Bank owners $200 per day.

By January of 2013 the owners faced $161,600 in city code violations. Tack on other assessments, fees, and repairs to the building owed to Yossifon, and Wolfe’s tally had eclipsed one million dollars. Over the years Mr. Wolfe had also accumulated millions of dollars in assessments, fees, and repairs to Mr. Yossifon. The GBCA filed suit against Mr. Wolfe, who countered with a suit of his own against the GBCA.

Glass-Bank-Demolition

“It’s just been like that for more than a decade, even when times were good nobody did anything with the building, so we’re tired of waiting and so as we promote Cocoa Beach… I just want to see the problem solved.”

– Mayor Dave Netterstrom

Yossifon was reluctant to yield to the city’s cries for demolishment, but ultimately agreed to a package deal that would waive the previously-assessed fines and liens.

In exchange for the building owners’ agreement, the city agreed to front the money required for demolition, and allowed for it to be paid back over the next three years.

Glass-Bank-chair-2014
courtesy michaelbrnd

The community was divided on the fate of the Cocoa Beach landmark, but most could agree any action was better than the status quo. As the years dragged on, votes for preservation proved harder to find.

“It’s absolutely wonderful. It brings back, for those who have been here, the space careers. It brings back a different time in America.”

– Phil Roberts, Cocoa Beach resident

Frank Wolfe effects not retrieved (courtesy michaelbrnd)

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Beginning of the End

Glass-Bank-interior-foliage-2014
courtesy michaelbrnd

By September of 2013 the Glass Bank had accumulated city fines totaling $210,600. Convinced the fines were not going to achieve the desired results, city attorneys sought an injunction on a nuisance claim either forcing action by the owners or allowing the city to take control of the beleaguered property.

The city had the good graces of Yossifon and the GBCA, but Wolfe was steadfast in his stubbornness.

The city moved to ask the judge for authority to demolish.

For his part, Frank Wolfe had an easy solution for the city: Just buy the penthouse. He was not satisfied with the proposition of releasing his home in exchange to forgive debts which he believed to be fabricated and unjust. However municipalities aren’t in the habit of speculating in real estate, and Cocoa Beach wasn’t in a position to pay Frank’s market price.

Glass-Bank-interior-2-2014
courtesy michaelbrnd

“I just want it down. Everyone wants it down. I don’t know anyone that’s in favor of keeping it.”

– Rick Talbott, Cocoa Beach resident

Frank-Wolfe-stationery
Stationery reads: Frank M. Wolfe, 505 North Orlando Avenue, Suite 304, P.O. Box 321299, Cocoa Beach, Florida 32932-1299, (407) 783-2218

Frank’s world began to quickly unravel in the summer of 2013. The ailing Wolfe had temporarily returned to Maine to be with family; six months later, in January of 2014, the city moved forward with its grievance filing and submitted to the courts an agreement signed by the Glass Bank Condominium Association. In preparation for the demolition, the city shut off power and water to the penthouse.

The judge ultimately sided with the city and the GBCA. Wolfe, who was deteriorating and had recently returned to Florida from Maine, rejected the proposal and appealed the ruling. Weeks later, on February 4th, the court ruled in favor of the GBCA in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Wolfe.

The very next day, on February 5th, 2014, the court approved the demolition order for the Glass Bank.

Wolfe’s Penthouse Before Demolition

photos courtesy Christopher Homer

“A lot of people were members of the Nautilus Club. We banked at Huntington Bank. It brings back memories for me, but I’m also glad to see it gone, no doubt.”

– Tony Hernandez, Cocoa Beach attorney

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Denied Access

Frank Wolfe was dejected and weary. Years of legal battles had taken their toll on his health and wallet. With appeals and personal money exhausted, Frank had no more obstacles left to offer the impending demolition.

After the court decision Frank attempted to retrieve his effects from the building (diplomas, family photos, and other personal heirlooms). But when he pushed the elevator call button, nothing happened. He remembered the building’s power had been turned off – along with his access to the penthouse.

There was nothing left.

photos courtesy bweissman

A friend of Frank’s later posted the following comment after a news article:

“…Frank told me that he was shut out from his penthouse atop the former Glass Bank because the electricity had been turned off for safety reasons, disabling the elevator. The city of Cocoa Beach had red tagged it and was refusing to allow him access to retrieve his personal property. He was leaving that night where he would make one last personal plea, this time to the city commission.”

Frank Wolfe diplomas Glass Bank florida
Left behind: Frank Wolfe’s certificates & diplomas: 1) University of Oslo, Certificate of Completion: Summer Course July 6th – August 16th, 1957. 2) Rollins College, Bachelor of Arts June 6th, 1958. 3) Phi Delta Phi Fraternity, Initiation Certificate April 10th, 1959. 4) Omicron Delta Kappa Society, Membership Certificate May 7th, 1957.

“It is very sad, but you have to accept change, and why would you want to live in an unsafe building?”

– Judy Wolff, Cocoa Beach resident

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A Life for a Penthouse

Glass-Bank-Frank-Wolfe-suicide-scene
courtesy spacecoastdaily.com

If there was an appropriate end of the road for Frank Wolfe, it was in the penthouse of the Glass Bank building.

At approximately 3:06 p.m. on Wednesday, February 5th, 2014, the Cocoa Beach Police Department responded to a call of a body found in front of the building. A man was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Francis Marvin Wolfe was unable to make his spiritual return to the penthouse; the 82 year-old was discovered collapsed in the vestibule in front of the penthouse elevator access door. It was the closest he could get to his favorite place; the building’s lack of power finally defeated him.

Glass-Bank-penthouse-elevator-accessAttorney Scott Widerman gave a statement on behalf of the GBCA:

“Our position is one of disbelief. We are naturally sorry to hear about this tragic event.  It is not imaginable that this breach of contract action would have this result. The Trial and Appellate Court found Mr. Wolfe responsible for the damage to the building. This was not the outcome anyone could imagine or desired.”

Nothing seemed amiss to longtime friend Bob Baugher. “I had a two hour meeting with him (Wolfe) this afternoon, and he seemed to be in good spirits.”

Wolfe was, however, declining in health. Reflecting, Baugher added Frank “dealt with things on his own terms.”

Count Baugher as one of Wolfe’s supporters; he feels the community failed Frank.

photos courtesy Christopher Homer

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Frank Wolfe published obituary

Frank M. Wolfe was born in Hartford, CT November 24, 1931. He completed his high school education in Hartford and enlisted in the Coast Guard serving three years in Korean Theater. He graduated from Rollins College, Winter Park, FL on June 6, 1958, with a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Business Administration and psychology. He then attended Stetson University College of Law, St. Petersburg, FL and earned his Juris Doctor degree on January 28, 1961. Before moving to Cocoa Beach he was Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the State of Florida. He was a senior partner in Wolfe, Kirschenbaum & Taylor, which later became Wolfe, Kirschenbaum, Caruso, Mosley and Kabboord, a major law firm in Cocoa Beach, FL. He also served as City Attorney from 1963 to 1967. During those years, he served on the board of several banks in addition to being one of the founders and directors of the Merritt Square Bank, Merritt Island, FL. From 1971 to 1981, he was CEO and Chairman of Leader International Inns, Inc., a large real estate company that owned and operated approximately 500 units in the Brevard County area. He was past Chairman of Ron Jon Surf Shop, headquartered in Cocoa Beach, FL, a large retailer known throughout the world. Mr. Wolfe was renowned for his architectural designing ability. He resided in the unique penthouse he built on top of the Glass Bank Building in Cocoa Beach, FL and he spent summer months in Maine where he designed and built a home on the Wells Reserve. He was generous to a fault and gave of himself to so many over the years, far too numerous to count. He was a loyal friend and advocate of the underdog. He demanded excellence of himself and his internal code of ethics was unshakable. He was loved by many. He left an impact on many lives and will not soon be forgotten. Died because he wanted to . . . Lived because he dared to.

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End of the Glass Bank building

Glass-Bank-Demolition-2015-3-RIPWhen Frank died, his estate elected to cooperate with the city. A deal was struck in April of 2014 which granted the city permission to demolish the iconic building.

According to the terms of the agreement, the Wolfe estate would be reimbursed for the property value when it was later sold. Similar to the deal with Yossifon and in exchange for allowing demolition, the Wolfe estate’s liens would also be resolved.

The bidding process for Cocoa Beach demolition projects typically sees at least 90 days, but the decades of pent-up motivation to raze the Glass Bank was immense. Within days of the agreement, city hall was collecting bids.

Frank-Wolfe-claims-of-lien

Most relieved of all parties appeared to be the city, its hands finally washed of the issue. But the agreement did little for the on-going dispute between GBCA trustee Yossifon and the estate of Frank Wolfe. City attorney Skip Fowler was succinct in his assessment:

“At least the city is out of it, and they can argue about who bought what from whom until the cows come home.”

Cocoa Beach obtained eight bids for the demolition of the Glass Bank building. In September of 2014 the city selected Crusader Demolition of Lakeland, Florida, to handle the tear-down.

  • Bid: $145,300
  • Duration: 50 days

Glass-Bank-Demolition-2015-4But the Glass Bank wasn’t going down easy. As-if to do Frank proud, the building provided one last obstacle to delay the inevitable: On closer examination, Crusader Demolition discovered more asbestos than expected.

However the project stalled only momentarily; in the middle of December the city commissioners quickly approved spending an additional $32,320.

Just get it done.

December of 2014 was spent removing asbestos from the Glass Bank and salvaging the scrap materials. Demolition cost was adjusted to $177,000 and scheduled for completion in February of 2015. Cocoa Beach accommodated for the adjustment by placing an additional lien on the property (when the property eventually sells, the city gets reimbursed the amount “borrowed” before the seller receives the proceeds).

The empty lot should retain significant value: 82 feet of air rights will remain with the property, according to the demolition agreement.

“It’s a shame to see it go but it’s not structurally sound and it’s an attraction for vagrants. It’s a public nuisance.”

– John Stroud, Cocoa Beach resident

Followers of the demolition story were temporarily distracted by a feral cat nicknamed Morris that had taken up residence in the abandoned building. After Morris was discovered it wasn’t long before a campaign was started to save the cat, which of course led to a dedicated Facebook page. His eventual capture prompted a news conference, and the feline former tenant even got his own day in Cocoa Beach.

Some residents made daily visits to the site during the demolition, memorializing via pictures and drone footage (watch below).

Spectators cheered when the last of the former Glass Bank came down on Groundhog day, 2015. If the public was feeling conflicted or reminiscent, it was buried in the rubble.

“It has been a big part of Cocoa Beach’s history. I can recall many, many years ago actually having dinner in the restaurant up there. It’s just a piece of Cocoa Beach that, well it’s kind of sad to see it go.”

– Franklin Glass, Cocoa Beach resident.

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Aftermath

Glass Bank
courtesy Christopher Homer

Most building damage was sustained in 2004, but the reality was the Glass Bank had already been decomposing for years.

Where did it all go wrong? Cocoa Beach author Dan Reiter offers the following:

“You might blame it on the space bust of the 60’s, or the drug-riddled aftershocks of Nam, or the malaise and despair of the disco age. You might blame it on recessions, on layoffs, on depressed property prices, on the steady, gradual degradation of downtown, on hurricanes or lawyers or men possessed… The Glass Bank was the closest thing to a landmark of architecture that we have here in Cocoa Beach.”

You might also blame it on an inefficient floor plan, or an era when commercial architects could give function a backseat to form and corporate budgets were under less strict control. You might blame it on higher building maintenance costs, an older infrastructure, or point to the continuous threat of hurricanes.

Surely NASA’s reduction of operations in 2011 had a heavy hand in the reduced fortunes of the local economy. Thousands lost their jobs as the Kennedy Space Center was mothballed.

Ironically, the largest obstacle just might have been the building’s ownership – or more specifically the parties’ inability to reach an accord.

Glass Bank
courtesy Christopher Homer

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Preserving History

Glass-Bank-3D-scanFortunately a group of preservationists have worked to re-create a virtual Glass Bank building. Dr. Lori C. Walters is a Research Assistant Professor with the Institute for Simulation and Training and Department of History at the University of Central Florida, and leads a group pioneering the school’s Virtual Heritage program. Known as ChronoPoints, the group focuses on examining historic structures utilizing the latest digital technology.

3D laser scans are created to help develop accurate models of buildings in their heyday. After successfully recreating the 1960s New York World’s Fair (watch), the group turned their attention to the Glass Bank building.

Dr. Walters was allowed to scan the building prior to its demolition, which established dimensions and shape. But the goal was to re-create the Glass Bank in the 1960s, not the Stucco Bank of the 1980s – so vintage photographs have been requested to be scanned into the computer for rendering. (Have vintage photographs of the Glass Bank at its zenith? Contact Dr. Walters and let her know!)

In February of 2015 the group released a video which shows the progress to date.

What the Glass Bank building might look like today had it been restored (courtesy Michael Rywalt)
What the Glass Bank building might look like today had it been restored (courtesy Michael Rywalt)

Certainly the year you were first exposed to the building plays a role in how you feel about it.”

-Dr. Lori Walters, Institute for Simulation and Training and Department of History at the University of Central Florida.

Glass-Bank-demolition
Glass Bank demolition wrapping up

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Timeline:

  • 1960 – Construction Begins
  • 1961 – Structure Construction Ends
  • 1962 – First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Cocoa – Cocoa Beach Branch officially opens
  • 1962 – Sky Room Restaurant opens
  • 1963 – Sky Room Restaurant closes. Construction begins on external “Express Elevator.” Ramon’s Rainbow Room opens.
  • 1965 – Rainbow Room expands floor space by moving windows to the edge of the external catwalk.
  • 1970 – Ramon’s Rainbow Room closes. Marby’s Rainbow Room opens.
  • 1972 – Marby’s Rainbow Room closes. No other restaurant will occupy the 4th
  • 1978 – Tornado damages Glass Bank.
  • 1983 – Penthouse addition and stucco of exterior façade. First Federal Savings & Loan Association is acquired by the First FA.
  • 1985-1986 – Reliance Bank occupies first floor banking facilities.
  • 1990 – Nautilus Fitness modifications.
  • 1995 – Name change of lower floor banking facilities to Huntington Bank.
  • 2004 – Hurricane (name?) hits. No tenants occupy lower portion of building.
  • 2014 – City approves & prepares for demolition.
  • 2015 – Demolition of building.

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This group of urban explorers takes us on a tour through the building before it was demolished:

 

Glass Bank courtesy Biz360Tours
photo courtesy Biz360Tours

As of the date of this post, the Glass Bank is still visible on Bing Maps in bird’s eye view:

Glass-Bank-bing-birds-eye
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Check out this 360-degree interactive virtual tour courtesy Biz360Tours:

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36 COMMENTS

  1. That place is hideous – he had it decorated that way up until the hurricanes in 2004? I’ve been by the building before it was demolished (We lived in Florida 2007-2012). It was an eyesore. Btw- who the heck still had computer monitors like that even in 2004?

    • I believe Frank had it decorated that way up until the very end, yes. I recall watching a demolition video that showed some of the round ceiling treatments falling down. That part was actually a bit sad to see, when you can recognize specific pieces coming down… I agree with the eyesore part, the Glass Bank needed serious TLC!

  2. The Glass Bank to The Bunker In The Sky
    An Abridged History

    1961 – The Glass Bank Building is constructed.
    1983 – Wolfe’s windowless bunker in the sky penthouse is constructed, Wolfe’s bunker survives.
    2004 – Hurricane season heavily damages building, Wolfe’s bunker survives.
    2014 – Power is cut, bunker unreachable, Wolfe’s demise, however Wolfe’s bunker survives.
    2015 – The Glass Bank building is demolished, Wolfe’s bunker is no more.

    “A man’s home is his castle.”

      • You covered the history of the Glass Bank building and of Wolfe quite extensively (as well as quite exquisitely as always) and I felt the lonely misplaced bunkers brief history should be told as well. It took 32 years for it to be buried under the earth even though it never got a chance to live there, where it rightly belonged.
        (Windowless Penthouse, Orphaned Bunker)
        “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, in all other things we trust to rust.”

  3. The notion of “cutting your losses” or “stuff makes people idiots” is lost on humanity, I think. Wow….didn’t Wolfe have a wife that saw the design for fake clouds that could’ve said “WTF?”

  4. I didn’t think the “remodel” looks very good. And Wolfe might have been a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Pretty interesting story though, well researched & documented.

    • Thank you! Brutalist architecture isn’t for everybody. I think the fact the did this particular modification to an already beautiful building probably hurts this particular example’s popularity campaign.

  5. I thought it looked great in glass, I don’t understand why they couldn’t have stuck with that style. Aren’t there other buildings with large glass windows in Cocoa Beach?

    • Hi M, I don’t think it was a matter of capability but rather cost. And yes I’m sure there are, but not quite like the original Glass Bank. Construction materials and methods have improved also making it a bit easier for newer structures to withstand higher forces.

  6. I think it’s sad that this poor man felt like he basically needed to wall off himself from the exterior world then the powers that be didn’t just ruin his abode. They wouldn’t even let the man get his personal effects.

  7. Another interesting article! Posts like this make people to find out about history of their neighbourhood. Sir, You are doing excellent job!

  8. I last commented on the article about the socialist version of Disney World. I made a few efforts over the last weeks to respond to your response, but it was apparently not possible. Something about that page disagrees with my system in regards to writing comments.

    You indicated that you appreciated the feedback, and I wanted to say that everything works much better now; especially on the more recent articles. I VERY much appreciate that you went to the trouble of making the site more accessible. I’m sure anyone else who was having issues does as well!

    This particular story is pretty sad. I can sympathise with all sides.

    Mr. Wolfe obviously loved his home, and I’m quite sure he didn’t see it as tacky. He must have invested quite a bit of himself in it, and it’s not surprising that he wanted something back in return for giving it up.

    Whether or not Mr. Yossifon could appreciate this, he couldn’t realise Mr. Wolfe’s desires. It wasn’t a realistic business decision he could make.

    I kinda like both versions of the building myself. They each have their own unique character.

    It’s unfortunate that the place ended up having to be destroyed. One wonders how many other iterations might have ended up happening if someone with a lot of resources had stepped in and taken Mr.’s Wolfe and Yossifon out of the picture. I guess we’ll never know.

    Very cool article!

    • Hi Vastet, thanks for the feedback! Yes I was having a problem with the site that prevented comments and likes, hopefully this is resolved now. I apologize for that, by the way. I have been trying things to make the site load faster and have discovered that some of these things disable other features. Whoops. It’s a learning process, thanks for bearing with me. 😉
      I enjoyed your point of view on the story, and I agree – both iterations of the building had their charms. And I can see both sides to the story. I think it is sad that it’s gone, but we were also fortunate that plenty was done to help document its history and preserve its legacy. If others hadn’t done so well to do so I would not have been able to put this together, so kudos to them for sure. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  9. Fascinating but sad account of the building and Frank Wolfe. The original building was stunning and compromised by the brutalist makeover but the interior photos and the psychological insight into Frank Wolfe are fascinating. A sad history but interesting what the locals thought about it all as well.

  10. Dear SI,

    I’m amazed at the breadth of your research. Thank you for writing this excellent piece on a true mid-century modern white elephant. Great collection of images, too. Bravo!

    Dan Reiter

    • Why thank you Dan! I have to extend a thanks to you, as your work helped inspire me to put this article together. I believe I lean toward your end of the spectrum on this matter. It’s unfortunate the building could not be saved, but the work you (and your local beat reporters) have done have helped to preserve its legacy. I’m flattered you approve, and thanks again for the comment! Cheers 🙂

  11. This whole article could be a summary of our collective attitudes towards modernist architecture. These buildings are often seen as kitschy relics and are readily altered (as with the godawful penthouse Mr Wolfe dreamed up), or simply eye sores to be torn down. Time will tell what the final judgement on mid-century modernism will be, but it seems to me that that style’s fragility and impracticality made it tough to appreciate. It also (again, personal opinion here) ages terribly: brick, stone and wood can often look better as they age and weather; glass, metal and exposed concrete buildings look like a toy that’s been left out in the backyard all summer after a few decades.
    Great piece as always!

    • Thanks TR, appreciate the comment! It’s hard to argue that Brutalism doesn’t age as well as other architectural styles. I’m not certain if it’s more the materials used or the angular and unique designs that were chic for that era. It doesn’t help that buildings that mesh multiple architectural styles together seem to age even worse. Cheers sir, thanks for the comment.

  12. Hmm. Not sure I’m on board this “brutalism” stuff, but great story. Well written and enjoyable to read, thanks.

  13. I wonder if Tony ever took Jeannie there? The NASA angle fascinates me- I’m off to find more stories & photos.
    Thanks for something interesting to read (so many things here, I’ll obviously be here a while, & back in the future) as I while away a Saturday at work!
    (not complaining, I’m a medic\firefighter & if I’m working that means something nasty happened)

    • Thanks Billy! I’m glad I could help you kill a few hours on your Saturday since you’re stuck inside. 😉 Cheers for the comment, let me know what interests you the most (<-- will give me a good idea of what stuff I should feature in the future!)

  14. This article was extremely interesting. Thank you for posting this. As for the strange looking padded entrance, I am sure that was nothing more then a added window/design to what was a Kohler habitat (environmental enclosure). I had read in other articles that they said it was a small room that the only way in was through a padded tunnel, also implying that Mr. Wolfe slept there which I believe is false. Kohler habitats have a sliding glass door to enter. I believe that the padded window tunnel, was nothing more then his own particular taste and design. Excellent article!

    • Thanks for reading Ceara_Elise. I too read the bit about Mr. Wolfe using the padded tunnel for access into another room, however I could not believe that to be true given his age and declining physical abilities. Like you, I just assumed it to be a design feature. Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate the comment! 🙂

  15. Great article I was glues to my laptop screen until the end. As I kept scrolling down I would look over to the scrolling bar on the screen hoping the article had more and more content. Its very intersting how the city denied Mr. Wolfe from entering the penthouse to retrieve his belongings, however on Youtube some urban explorers accessed the penthouse and discovered his many degrees which he so desperately sought to to get. Anyway great article keep up the good work and produce some more information the same way. 🙂

    • Hi Tom, thanks for the nice comment. This story was one of the more intriguing ones I’ve done, I thought Mr. Wolfe’s story added a dimension of humanity not normally present in these abandoned building posts. I can only imagine the elderly Mr. Wolfe wasn’t as athletic and inventive as some of today’s urbex youth. Thanks for the kind words and thanks for reading!

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